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There is no doubt that the last 18 months brought the subject of health and well-being into sharp focus. Many of us had to learn how to stay active within the four walls of home, devoting significant willpower, determination, and energy into ensuring that the sudden lack of activity and routine didn’t come at the expense of our health.

It is of course true that most of us know that we need to eat well and exercise regularly to stay healthy. Nevertheless, it is also the case that a lot of us find it hard to do either in a sustained manner. Rationally, we may know these things are important for our own personal interest, but something often seems to get in the way. Academics, behavioural experts, and health professionals have known for many years that mere awareness of a health issue or risk is not always enough to motivate people to change deeply entrenched habits or to develop new ones.

Developing and sustaining motivation for lifestyle change is critical in managing chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes or heart and pulmonary disease. But the same is equally true across many other aspects of healthcare as well as any number of personal health and fitness related goals, be it remembering to take medication at particular times, kicking bad habits, the journey from couch to 5k, or any number of well-intentioned New Year’s Resolutions.

Health motivation has many of the same influences as other aspects of motivation but with, perhaps, some specific additions to the mix. Alongside the obvious environmental, physical, and psychological variables and the experiences that can shape our perceptions, there is an equation of perceived susceptibility, perceived severity, perceived benefits, and perceived barriers that can combine to determine individual attitudes and actions. Even with a positive attitude, action can often still require a cue, stimulus, or nudge. We all need encouragement to put us, and keep us, on the right path and that is where the use of digital innovation can go a long way to building our engagement.

More than ‘just a game’

Gamification, Serious Games and Game Design have all been growing in use over the last 10 years in a wide range of non-entertainment contexts, from finances to learning to play the piano and everything in between. There are several reasons for this, a key one being how well these approaches can engage and focus users. It is this capacity for engagement, encouragement and commitment that can make Game Design and Gamification significantly impactful within Health and Wellbeing.

 


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Recent years have seen an increased application of game thinking across health, fitness, and wellbeing through the explosion of fitness apps and a better understanding of motivation and behavioural psychology. The growing use of Gamification to support the management of chronic illness, rehabilitation, health, and wellbeing is already proving to have fascinating and significant benefits. Serious contexts with serious connotations and consequences, but with an opportunity to inject well designed user focussed strategies that can support people on their journey to changing their behaviours for the better and towards improved health.

A System for Support

An important initial step in managing a long-term condition, such as diabetes or a heart condition, is helping with their overall understanding and awareness. Depending on diagnosis, traditionally a GP or doctor will talk through symptoms to monitor or watch out for supported with leaflets, websites and an initial schedule of check-ups and tests. In cases where the individual may have access to specialists and dedicated practitioners, their progress and the management of their condition may have more support to hand – perhaps with these specialists available for frequent check-ups and monitoring, personalised health plans, etc. Sadly, the growing prevalence of these conditions across a health service that is already economically challenged, makes this support increasingly difficult to provide.

Despite the best endeavours of healthcare professionals, diagnosis of a chronic illness can still be a lonely, confusing, or frightening period for many. Faced with such, it is all too easy to resort to the internet to identify and interpret symptoms or browse forums to find what has worked for other people. This can, of course, become even more confusing and frightening since the available information may not feel relevant or be appropriate for each situation.

Given the importance of scalability and availability, this is where appropriate and well-designed technology solutions can help to complement the support system provided by medical professionals facing a level of increasing demand that they cannot possibly satisfy in the long term. Whilst some people have claimed that the pace of digital innovation that has taken place in the last ten months is equivalent to that of the previous ten years, this does not perhaps fairly reflect some of the innovation that has been quietly taking place across the health sector and is starting to deliver significant benefits.

Health and Gamification in Practice

A good example of gamification being successfully integrated into a healthcare solution can be seen with PainSquad: a smartphone based electronic pain management tool which helps 8 to 18-year old cancer patients track pain levels and complete daily reports. It turns an emotionally complex task into an engaging experience, as users climb the ranks and earn rewards by habitually using a crime-fighting style application. The result? 90%+ initial completion rates for the pain journals, a percentage noted to be unheard of in paediatric medicine, highlighting the empowering and constructive impact that a gamified experience can have.

Another example of using gamification can be seen with Mango Health. Their smartphone application is designed to allow users to set up their daily medication schedule and then provides them with appropriate prompts to take the medication. If the user takes their medication at the right time, they earn points that can be converted into gift cards or even charitable donations.  On top of this, the mobile app also provides educational materials about the user’s medication, including drug interactions and potential side effects.

Occasionally there is a concern raised regarding the opportunity to address health matters with digital solutions, based on an assumption that it involves expensive and frequently inaccessible technologies. Or that they end up reducing the important subject and science at their core. However there are plenty of examples where technology has helped make a significant and positive impact on health and well being, and plenty of examples demonstrating how technology actually improves scalability and accessibility of much needed support. For instance, the role of virtual reality video games in promoting active movement, improving balance, and increasing energy expenditure in children with cerebral palsy. These examples have used a Nintendo Wii or Microsoft Kinect as a low cost, accessible way to offer self-motivated physical therapy through a video game. Studies showed that patients who participated in virtual reality gaming therapy increased the intensity, frequency, and duration of therapy movements, leading to enhanced motor performance.

Whilst the use of gamification in healthcare has been around for a while, it is still developing and continues to represent a significant opportunity for future research and impact.  As an example that demonstrates how fast this is expanding and how seriously it is being applied right now, the FDA in America recently made a landmark decision to officially validate the use of a video game as a prescribed treatment for children with ADHD after 7 years of clinical trials.

Rehabilitation and Recovery

Another stimulating opportunity area for the application of game thinking in healthcare lies in rehabilitation and recovery from acute conditions such as strokes or spinal injury. Here, there are good examples where “real” games can play as important a role in a patient’s recovery as specifically made serious games. To help recovery, the engaging and fun nature of the game is of critical importance. Video games require focused and repetitive movements, which is often exactly what is needed for this kind of rehabilitation. Because the game is fun and provides the patient a distraction whilst they play, it is potentially able to offer a degree of sustainability that traditional rehabilitation may not always be able to easily provide.

For example, games such as Battlefield have been used to help stroke patients by using special controllers that use the feet rather than hands to move. This has been shown to help to recover lost function, by encouraging repetitive movements and stimulation. Research has also shown that more active games, such as Wii Fit Sports, where controllers are motion activated, can improve upper body muscle activation in quadriplegics and tetraplegics.

In contrast to the reuse of standard games with modified controllers or gameplay tweaks, there are also games that are created specifically for rehabilitation. One such game, designed by a research team at Newcastle University, was successfully used to evaluate the effectiveness of small changes to therapeutic regimes, by asking the patient to play a simple video game that measured their physical responses to onscreen movement.

One of the key reasons we are all drawn to games in their different forms is precisely because of their ability to immerse us in a different world, or a different story, with different rules to the one we live in normally. The notion of being able to open new worlds for people to explore, when they may be feeling trapped or struggling in whatever way, is incredibly exciting and is matched with the positive results and outcomes achieved in patients taking on these new forms of therapy. In the same way that we are seeing more and more innovative story telling in the traditional world of games, perhaps we can look forward to even more inspirational blends of imagination, creativity and science to deliver real change and impact in rehabilitation and recovery?

Wellbeing

Wellbeing is often used to cover a vast array of topics, from mental wellness to weight management to fitness. Whether it is the use of Wii Bowling to help keep the eldering active, corporate fitness schemes that make use of wearable technologies to create internal competitions and challenges or more bespoke solutions that help monitor mental health and depression such as SuperBetter, game thinking and gamification are increasingly being applied to enable effective solutions.

Within the workplace, gamified solutions have already proven the value and positive impact they can offer in terms of the employee experience and in achieving organisational objectives. Whether it is in terms of consistent and effective onboarding, uniting remote teams, engaging individuals in learning and development, or standardising processes and approaches, gamified tools and experiences have been shown to be readily adopted and to deliver tangible results.  However, there is space for this value and user centric approach to be directed towards corporate wellness schemes in order to produce meaningful solutions, beyond counting how many daily steps you achieve as a team. There is no doubt that the world of work already has and will continue to undergo significant change. There is already acute focus on employee wellbeing and organisations across all sectors are faced with the need to increase participation, commitment and overall engagement amongst their employees whilst also finding the balance between empathy and effectiveness. During the pandemic, the necessary distancing, shielding, and lockdown requirements meant that loneliness impacted on health and wellbeing with 24% of adults feeling significantly isolated. The use of technology to replace face to face social interactions undoubtedly helped some individuals maintain contact and activities through these abnormal times. There has never been a more important time for organisations to apply innovation to these areas with digital solutions to support health and well-being as an intrinsic part of their employee experience.

Change for the Future

There is enough pressure in today’s society to fit one fitness standard or another, and the reality is everyone is fighting their own personal challenge regarding their health and wellbeing and where they would like it to be. Whatever the solution, it cannot lose sight of the end needs and requirements of the user it should be helping and supporting. Solutions do not need to be overly complex to be effective. When considering behaviour change, we are often focused on making small changes to help new behaviours stick. Constant availability, reliability and security are also important characteristics of these solutions whilst it is important to keep in mind that there is no “one size fits all” approach so personalisation and user-focussed design will determine adoption and ultimately sustained behaviour outcomes. It is time to take careful steps towards future designs that leverage the exciting possibilities and mechanics, founded on the exciting scientific research, in order to deliver exciting and encouraging results for the individuals at the heart.

 

Brands are constantly fighting for consumer attention, relevance and profitability against a backdrop of intense disruption and competition. It would be superficial to claim consumer’s today are easily influenced or swayed, when the reality is that most are looking to be impressed by seamless accessibility and browsing, won over by considered brand values and communications, and excited by excellent customer service and stand-out experiences. Capturing their attention is a crucial part of the journey, but strong Customer Engagement strategies should also be sustaining engagement, retention, and advocacy to truly reinforce profitability and performance.

Successful loyalty programs develop Customer Engagement beyond transactional relationships which are incentive focused but weak on lasting engagement. This is often due to the overall offering lacking personalisation, relevance, or user centricity. Customer Engagement strategies that do well in hooking and retaining their audiences provide a richer, multi-faceted offering that directly appeals to user needs and drives.

To deliver this, you of course need a strong technological foundation to support seamless, omnichannel accessibility. You need an attractive product or service offering, well showcased through intuitive and creative design work. You need an insightful understanding of the end user or customer, in order to provide communications and touchpoints that build trust. But how can you enhance the experience, in a way that still authentically represents your brand, to help the customer fall just that bit more in love?

63% of loyalty members say that if they enjoy an experience, they will use it more. Great Customer Service: 75% of loyalty members say they would stop using a program if they experience poor service. Brand Values: 70% of consumers feel it is important that brands uphold values that they have an emotional attachment to.

A strategy that can make a big difference to sustainable user enjoyment and effectively transmit information is Gamification: the application of game design, game elements and play in non-game contexts – such as brand apps or member schemes.

Why Add Gamification?

At first glance, Gamification could be easily sorted into the camp of shallow gimmicks. Is the idea not to move beyond just incentivising? However, as with AI or VR or any innovative functionality you’re looking to design into a process or experience, the result is highly dependent on the ‘why’, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. So let’s break it down.

Fun and enjoyment seem such obvious elements to include in your offering to customers, and yet so often aren’t designed into experiences. If you want customers to love your brand, if you want to be the first place they look, if you want to bolster recurring purchases, you need to seriously think about how to find ways to make them enjoy the relationship more.

Games, by nature, are fun. Everyone will have types they prefer more than others, and some that they really dislike, because games create emotional and behavioural responses within us. Who hasn’t seen their competitive side suddenly awakened by a game? Or maybe you love building or exploring new worlds? Gamification is often misconstrued as ‘just adding a game’ to something. The theory is actually about applying game elements or game-like design into non-traditional settings in order to make them more enjoyable, or to create more of an emotional reaction from participants. We have all seen how games can create buzz, but gamification can also make a program more attractive or even teach critical messages in a fun and engaging way (learn through play).

Techvalidate showed that 30% of companies using gamification improved registration conversion rates by upward of 50%. Tapping into people’s need for enjoyment, or even curiosity to see what the fuss is all about, is a really easy starting place for applying gamification to a loyalty or membership scheme. For example, attractive but short games can be hosted seasonally to encourage exploration of new collections or messages, as fun, exclusive, personalised experiences that exemplify the brand values and bring the customer just that bit closer.

Keep Them Coming Back For More

Of course, many loyalty programmes already use a very simplistic gamification strategy to encourage interactions: points and rewards. Rewards schedules are essential to any loyalty scheme but consumers today expect more from their customer experience than “spend more to get more” point systems. Plus, through these purely transactional approaches, you’re not actually rewarding loyalty, you’re rewarding spending. Some customers will desperately want to be part of a brand’s circle because they’re inspired by the brand values or imagery but may not always have the cash to splash frequently enough to be rewarded. Loyalty schemes can immediately become more personal by remembering and recognising special occasions, such as a customer’s birthday or membership anniversary. Game design can then also help members understand what behaviours can be rewarded or give them the chance to boost points or bring themselves closer to new membership levels or treats.

Random rewards, like Easter Eggs, can also add elements of surprise and delight and give customers a reason to log into their account to see if they’re in luck that day. Random promotions, offers and communications that speak to them can help energise the connection between customer and brand.

Gamification can also be applied to boost social connection within a programme, allowing and encouraging and rewarding people for inviting friends to join. Programmes that allow you to create teams or groups can have two benefits – while it obviously helps to bring new members into the scheme, more importantly for the customer it creates a bond and shared experience with friends. Just like games are always more fun when playing with a group of friends, either playing against each other or competing together for a prize helps foster natural and enjoyable ways to improve interactivity within a loyalty scheme.

Creating Emotional Reactions to Drive Behaviour Change – RAMP

Appealing to Your Audience

More ways to boost the social element within a program, that have become increasingly popular – providing seamless connections and pathways to social media platforms. Encouraging customers to share their shopping experiences with their networks and actually rewarding and recognizing their Instagram posts, Tweets or Facebook reviews/recommendations, is a fast way to nurturing brand advocates or at least a much more meaningful connection between customer and brand. Furthermore, people are always more inclined to purchase when they can relate to the ambassadors they see on the brand website, apps, and of course social media. In the age of the influencer, incentivizing and enabling people to share their own positive experiences will help build communities and foster a sense of belonging and exclusivity for members whose feedback or interactions get featured.

Game elements that can enhance the sensation can be quite simple but effective, such as tiered reward systems where members unlock different experiences, offers or access, or even a more personalised approach where members can choose the membership or profile that suits their style, needs or requirements. You can even take this further by allowing customers to fully personalise their reward system, offering not only rewards related to the brand but more experiential rewards – leisure activities and the like. Again, this makes them feel they have more control of their preferences and options within the loyalty scheme, making it more tailored to them as individuals.

Ultimately, it is important to design with the user in mind. No one is interested in playing a game where they’re not able to succeed or participate fully, or that feels it is weighted against them. If you just apply a game with no meaning or relevance, you’ll risk abandonment, just like designing an app without considering how people need to use it. Considering what will drive them to brand loyalty and advocacy, or how to improve the journey to purchase, but also making sure they feel they’re in control of their membership rather than at the mercy of an elusive brand, or just another number on a platform.

 

 

The art of designing attractive and effective digital engagement solutions

Are the rules of reality broken? We have become used to dividing areas or putting things in their specific boxes. Work is serious. Games are fun. Learning is serious. Creativity is fun. Problem solving – serious or fun? When we dive into the world of game thinking or game design, often grouped together under the term of Gamification, the well-defined barrier between serious contexts and play falls away. Why apply game elements to traditionally serious contexts? To get the most out of all aspects of life, sometimes we need to add more play!

Now, reality can be much more attractive and entertaining thanks to “Serious Play Experiences”.

“Serious Play Experiences”, are situations where fun narratives and game elements can be introduced without losing sight of the serious objectives driving them (for example: incentivising recycling across communities, reducing employee turnover, sustaining interest in learning materials). Often because of the serious nature of such contexts, applying fun elements can significantly enhance motivation, commitment and participation – resulting in a successful achievement of objectives.

Doesn’t sound like something you’d use? You might be surprised, as there are more examples out there than you probably think.

Mixed serious gaming experiences, not just digital

By adding face-to-face challenges, the experience can help to build social relationships or interpersonal skills in the process. This can be seen in educational contexts/scenarios, where the “escape room” concept has been adapted to provide a fun yet educational classroom learning experience. For example, Breakout Edu where as well as having an immersive game platform, players also have to work face-to-face collaboratively to solve a series of critical thinking puzzles to open a locked box. These experiences rely on a very collaborative narrative plot. When this dynamic is replicated within a digital context, the solution can include multiple communication channels and a virtual social area that further increases the feeling of community and positive group identity.

Serious gaming experiences in virtual reality environments

This is one of the most prominent emerging trends in Serious Play Experiences in the last few years. Virtual reality offers infinite possibilities due to its great versatility. A lot of use can be seen within training contexts, both educational and corporate, especially where very specific training or practice is required (such as unconscious bias training for example).

From a gamification point of view, virtual reality reinforces the weight of game elements such as avatars and non-linear or open plot narration, substantially improving users sense of freedom.

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Gaming experiences in augmented reality environments

Many examples are also appearing in the market of this type of initiative. To name a few: “Zombie Run”, “Ring fit” and “Peloton”. These experiences rely on a mission structure. Each mission includes challenges that gradually increase the difficulty to increase participant’s sense of progress. To support this, other game elements are added such as the progress bar, badges and points, which reinforce the perception of autonomy and self-improvement.

So, how are serious contexts “seasoned” with the right amount of play, to ensure the objective is still met? And how could they work for you and your organisation? Let’s take a look at the solution-design steps required for taking users toward fulfilling objectives.

  1. User-centric analysis:

Before getting stuck in, it’s important to carry out a detailed analysis of the situation your target audience or objectives are operating within. You will need to understand information about the context and the users’ behaviours, characteristics, game preferences and digital skills, to be able to create a solution that will integrate easily into everyday life.

  1. Include effective components:

With client and user needs forming the foundations, you can next include the necessary components to build the actual journey or strategy of the solution. By basing or choosing components with an understanding of Behavioural Science, you can create a path that users will actually want to follow and that will feel intuitive to them.  The different parts need to consider user characteristics and preferences (collected from the previous step) as well as client requirements. The aim of the game is of course to deliver results and achieve the determined objective, but this will only be successful if you provide an experience that people feel able to collaborate in.

  1. Integrate game elements:

Making people want to take part, rather than feel they have to is a powerful motivation. Here is where introducing gamification is useful. It is no secret that people do better at something when they enjoy the activity itself. Applying game elements to a mundane or even dreary process (imagine if compliance training could be enjoyable) does not mean you simply turn the experience into a game or lose all sense of seriousness. Elements can be discrete nudges or prompts, or recognition of a user’s progress, spurring them to stick with the process or activity, boosting their motivation and commitment. To ensure a more fulfilling, engaging experience, you’re ultimately looking to weave together three interconnecting gamified structures: the narrative, the challenges, and the energisers.

Following us so far? Let’s look at an example to see how it all comes to life.

A large hotel chain was looking to reduce its high staff turnover by implementing new corporate values and culture that would hopefully encourage commitment to the brand. They needed an effective vehicle to deliver the information in a way that would stick with the employees, engaging them in the workplace and reducing feelings of detachment.

Digital solutions, either web or mobile applications, are easily accessible to wide audiences and often help to set experiences outside of the ‘real world’. In a digital solution, participants feel they can attempt challenges, immerse themselves in situations, and progress without the pressure of a manager looking over their shoulders. This means you can provide environments that resemble real life, with fewer real-life stresses.

Digital solutions also help ensure the same information reaches all people in the same way, standardising and centralising processes – such as the hotel chain communicating the new corporate values and culture. With all employees receiving the same core message, the next step is to help employees engage with this content and ultimately embody it.

Here is where we could introduce a learning by doing strategy (or learning through play). First you plot what the strategy of the solution should overcome, with an understanding of what the users need. Feelings of detachment can be resolved through tapping into people’s need for mastery, purpose, and achievement. Presenting the disillusioned employees with the chance to prove themselves and feel they are improving, which in turn gives their managers the cue to recognise this improvement. The strategy helps employees feel that they contribute to the overall success of the company and their contribution is valued. So we can look at gamifying three core steps to the strategy: a) provide opportunities to overcome challenges and improve, b) provide content and materials for employees to learn from and train with, c) foster and promote a positive environment where good work is recognised and encouraged.          

Next: how to get people involved. A narrative structure always helps to increase individual’s interest in participating. This can be achieved by introducing an appealing plot that will engage participants and encourage them to follow and commit to the process. In this example, the employees of the hotel could be invited to join a virtual hotel (call to action) as virtual staff, attending to visiting customers. They are presented with different scenarios and opportunities (challenges) where they have to demonstrate the new brand values and behaviours, earning virtual currency or levelling up when they successfully overcome their challenges.

Designing meaningful “Serious Gaming Experiences” that make an impact or drive change is a complex but rewarding process, requiring the designer to consider a multitude of perspectives in the process. All of the elements have to work in harmony with each other to create a balanced experience, that drive the desired results. If the experience is too much like a game or too removed from reality, the core message becomes diluted. When an experience doesn’t take the participant’s needs and motivations into consideration it runs the risk of turning people off from engaging. Daily life is full of distractions and examples of innovation at our fingertips. Is it crazy to consider people’s expectations and attention need more stimulation in the experiences you offer?

Like most aspects of life and learning, you will get more out of any solution if you add a little play!

Written in collaboration by Marta Calderero & Andrzej Marczewski

Gamification, the use of game design, game elements and play for non-entertainment purposes, is a divisive word. It conjures pictures of employees and customers playing video games, where in reality it very rarely looks like that.

Gamification, in its purest form, borrows from games to increase engagement with an activity. It could simply be that the addition of clear goals and feedback in the form of progress maps and scores can achieve this. On the other hand, a strong narrative and game-like look and feel might be the best way achieve the specified business outcomes.

The point is that gamification needs to be applied in a way that fits a well-defined brief, achieves the business outcomes and balances the client’s wants with the client’s needs (which are often at odds).

However, far too often we see “Gimmick Gamification”, that looks pretty but achieves very little. It relies on the novelty factor but has no eye to longevity. It is easy to understand why though. The addition of a simple game to a website looks like a good idea. “Games are fun, people like games, a game will stick in people’s memories, and make us look innovative and exciting”.

The trouble is, the game has to achieve something for both the client and the player. For example, if the client is looking for repeated visits, then often the game will focus on short bursts of play with the promise of a reward for repeat visits. The game is usually very simple and becomes boring quickly. In this instance the rewards have to be very special to maintain at least mid-term engagement. More often than not all that will happen is short bursts of activity as new users discover the game, but very few returning players.

 

 

On the flip side, if the game is amazing, but the rewards and messaging are poor, all that you get is players engaging with the game, not the brand! If you are going to rely on a game, it needs to strike a balance of deep gameplay and desirable rewards, but this will and should take time to design.

That’s why good gamification usually focuses on borrowing from games rather than trying to build games. It requires an understanding of the target audience and of what they want and need as well as what the client wants and needs. It requires an understanding of what motivates people to engage over long periods. It requires time and development if it is going to deliver results.

If you want a quick adrenaline shot, the Gimmick Gamification might be for you. If you want sustained and long-term engagement that focuses on change and business outcomes, then you need to look at gamification as a strategy rather than a novelty.

It’s not all Fun and Games

 

The last few weeks have given me plenty of food for thought. The end of November saw the second annual instalment of Gamification Europe, a great chance to catch up with old friends and take stock of what we are all doing around gamification. Then, the beginning of December, gave me the opportunity to sit round the table with graduates and game designers and compare notes on the differences and similarities of gamification and games. Both of these made me reflect on balancing fun and objectives, and how game-like solutions can remain sustainable.

At Gamification Europe, held at a comedy club in Amsterdam, speakers from around the world gave their insights into gamification, serious games, play and how they all fit into the world around us.

Several talks echoed Gartner’s prediction that “80% of gamification will fail”. One message, that was repeated many times, particularly resonated with me: Gamification is a strategy that needs to focus on outcomes and objectives. However, I feel a lot of what is considered to be failure or disenchantment in the industry, seem to trail back to a lack of focus on the outcomes and the objectives of where gamification was and is being implemented.  When planning a gamification-based intervention (or any kind of intervention), it is essential that you start by understanding what the problem is that the intervention will solve and what the outcomes or objectives will be. Rather than gamification being considered a “magic bullet”, it really needs to be about tightly defined outcomes and part of a well thought out strategy. This is something that we are very clear with our clients about.

When we are designing a solution, we split the project into 8 phases. The first two focus specifically on understanding the problem, defining the specific outcomes and how we are going to measure them. That is a quarter of the project phase, dedicated to understanding the What and the Why, before we even start to consider the How!

 

 

 

It’s a stage that often seems to be ignored or retrofitted after the “solution” has been designed. The “game” becomes more important than the outcomes, and the “fun” overtakes what the client really needs.

This was further highlighted during my discussions with the game designers in Newcastle, and goes some way to explain why it is so important for people to understand what gamification actually is compared to games. The clearest difference is simple. Games generally start with “fun” or “entertainment” as their objective. The designer has an idea for an interesting mechanic and that evolves into a game. Obviously there can be other factors. For instance, if the designer has been given a film license, for instance, then there is an objective – the game has to be related to the film.  Beyond that, how the game plays and how it will entertain its players is their biggest concern.

In gamification, we start with an objective first, then work back to how we might be able to use gamification or games to solve that problem in the most effective and efficient way possible. Fun is very rarely a business objective!


Before answering the question of “Why Gamification”, it probably makes sense to wrap our heads around “What is Gamification?” for this discussion. If you look around, you will find several different definitions. From a non-academic perspective, the most useful way to define gamification is “The use of games or game-like experiences to increase motivation and engagement with an activity or process”.

For us, it is one of many tools used when looking to solve problems presented by clients. Whilst gamification is not specifically about turning something into a game, it is useful not to exclude them completely from our minds when looking for solutions. It’s often where most people’s inspiration comes from, or a good place to begin when trying to work out how to make something more interesting.

When we are approached for work that requires gamification, it is usually related to some kind of need to increase active participation, be it on-boarding, loyalty, education, or any myriad of reasons. Frequently at the heart of the challenge is someone wanting someone else to do more of something! Or even “we need everyone to be doing more of this, all together, in the same way”.

Gamification has some unique strengths that other, more traditional approaches, may not have. Especially when it comes to encouraging large groups, and engaging with different profiles of people.

When trying to increase active participation, it is essential that people find the activity accessible. This is something that games do exceptionally well. They have evolved over the years to become accessible to anyone at any age without the need to read large manuals. We can do the same with gamification, creating experiences that hold the user’s hand through the early stages of their participation – their onboarding into the system.

Games are great at breaking down huge experiences into manageable chunks. In the “real world,” we would describe that as goal setting. Taking a large goal and breaking it down into manageable and therefore more achievable goals. There is scientific theory behind this called Goal Setting Theory. Researchers, Locke and Latham set out five principles that improve a person’s chances of achieving a goal. Clarity, Challenge, Commitment, Feedback, Task complexity [1]. Gamification can support all of these five principles in various ways. If we consider that good games get all this right, it is safe to say that well-designed gamification can do it too.

One of the most important things that can be done with games and game-like systems is creating the opportunity to fail. This sounds odd, but games teach you by letting you fail,  try again, fail and try again. It creates a safe environment to improve. The use of business focused games and simulations can do the same. If an employee needs to understand how to find all the exits on an oil rig, surely it is better to let them walk around a virtual model of the rig, rather than the real thing?

Gamification can also add fun to tasks that may not naturally be seen as fun. Whilst it is not the main reason to use gamification, it is certainly one that can resonate with users. Why does ethics training have to be a dull pdf followed by a quiz? It could instead be a fun series of videos that play out various scenarios based on user choices.

So why do we choose gamification as one of our solutions to engagement problems? Because it works really well and users enjoy the resulting experiences!

 

[1]        H. L. Tosi, E. A. Locke, and G. P. Latham, “A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance,” Acad. Manag. Rev., vol. 16, no. 2, p. 480, 1991.

 Happy employees drinking chai lattes, playing pool and table tennis, being creative and brilliant. That is the vision some have come to imagine is the ideal work environment. We have all seen the pictures from companies like Google, with chilled out developers working in converted phone boxes and sliding down the helter-skelter to their next meeting.

The reality is, of course, often very different. The practicalities of most office environments mean that these sorts of extreme designs are not possible. However, that does not stop people trying. The number of times I have seen a pool table or foosball table awkwardly shoehorned into a corner is incredible.

The reasoning behind this is often honourable. Someone somewhere has been given a bit of money to try and increase employee happiness, and therefore engagement, based on a poor employee satisfaction survey result.

It may seem a generous and forward-thinking idea, but it is often a poorly planned “knee-jerk” reaction that fails to address the deeper issues that may be affecting the feelings of the employees or why there may be a low level of engagement.

In reality, satisfaction and engagement surveys have certain issues that could affect the true vision of employee engagement. For starters, not all employees may believe they are anonymous, leading them to refuse to take part, fearing that “Big Brother” is watching. Others may take it as an opportunity to vent frustrations that are not directly related to their overall engagement with the company. Yet more may be too busy to do it, probably those that are actually the top performers! So, the survey never really represents to true levels of engagement across the whole company.

Imagine you find that a particular department has low morale. Do you really think that putting a pool table in the coffee room will lift that long term? Did anyone in their survey cite a lack of a pool table as their reason for being unhappy in their role? Of course not. You need to dig deeper and understand the root cause of the issues, then work to improve that. But you can only do that if the employees trust you, which is where things like a well thought out Employee Value Proposition (EVP) start to become so important!

The same can actually be said of many gamification implementations in companies looking to boost employee engagement. They are introduced to try and add some flavour, fun or competition to boost productivity or happiness. Just like the pool table, this often doesn’t address the core issues. In fact, with badly implemented gamification the issue could be compounded. If a company can afford to invest in that, why can’t they invest in something that employees actually want? That’s why it is so important to plan a gamification solution so carefully and why we put so much time into the user research at the start of any project. If you don’t understand them, you can’t possibly design something that will resonate with them and be accepted.

This doesn’t mean you should not install a pool table, but make sure that it is part of a structured plan to improve all of the factors affecting employee engagement, not just a patch with a “that’ll do” attitude attached.